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Sketches Of Spain

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Sketches of Spain

Miles Davis

Arranged and conducted by Gil Evans


1. Concierto De Aranjuez (16:14)


2. Will O’ The Wisp (3:48)


3. The Pan Piper (3:57)


4. Saeta (4:57)


5. Solea (12:08)


Digital Remix Producer: Teo Macero

Digital Remix Engineer: Larry Keyes


Recorded November 20, 1959 and March 10 – 11, 1960 in New York City.


The uniquely creative collaboration between Miles Davis and Gil Evans has already resulted in two extraordinarily evocative Columbia albums-Miles Ahead (CL 1041) and Porgy and Bess (CL 1274/CS 8085). Of the former, British critic Max Harrison wrote: "These scores represent the full expression of Evans' powers. In elaboration and richness of resource they surpass anything previously attempted in big band jazz and constitute the only wholly original departure in that field outside of Ellington's work .... In any given chord careful consideration is given to the best instrument to play each constituent note. The weight of that instrument is most sensitively calculated in relation both to the others used and to the particular effect the chord is meant to have."


Porgy and Bess was, in a sense, even more challenging because the score was so familiar. Miles, however, played so strikingly from inside the music that I'm convinced the Davis-Evans version of the score is the most expressive yet recorded. In Sketches from Spain, the two have gone on to challenge themselves even further. A brooding, dramatic Spanish sound and feeling pervade all the works on this record. Davis, I believe, has rarely if ever soloed with such concentration of emotion, as in several sections of this album particularly in Concierto de Aranjuez and Saeta. What is most remarkable is the surprising authenticity of phrasing and timbre with which he plays. It is as if Miles had been born of Andalusian gypsies but, instead of picking up the guitar, had decided to make a trumpet the expression of his cante hondo ("deep song"). And Evans also indicates a thorough absorption of the Spanish musical temper which he has transmuted into his own uncompromisingly personal style.


The album came about because, when Miles was on the West Coast early in 1959, a friend had played him a recording of Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra by the contemporary Spanish composer, Joaquin Rodrigo (ML 5345). "After listening to it for couple of weeks," Miles said later, "I couldn't get it out of my mind. Then when Gil and I decided to do this album, I played him the record and he liked it. As we usually do, we planned the program first by ourselves for about two months. I work out something; he takes it home and works on it some more; and then we figure out how we're going to do it. He can read my mind and I can read his."


For the album, Gil rewrote and extended the middle section of the Concierto. The recording took place in late 1959, and in the February, 1960 issue of Hi-Fi/Stereo Review, I described what happened in the studio on one Sunday afternoon. Excerpts from the article are reprinted below through the permission of the Ziff- Davis Publishing Company:


"In the studio, Gil Evans was checking the parts with his characteristically preoccupied look. A lean, graying 47, Gil looks like a gently aging diplomat who collects rare species of ferns on weekends. Though always polite, he is in firm control of his record dates and insists on hearing exactly what he has written.


"Miles had joined Gil at the spare piano and they started discussing Miles' part which spread out, accordion-fashion, over many sheets of manuscript paper.


" ... Miles went back in the control booth. 'I always manage to put my foot in it,' he said of the Spanish experiment. 'I always manage to try something I can't do.' The statement was mockingly self-depreciating and no one bothered with the logical rebuttal that Miles is able to accomplish exactly what he sets out to do, and even rarer among jazzmen, he's always clear as to what it is he does want." 'I'm going to call myself on the phone one day,' Miles continued, 'and tell myself to shut up.'


"The take began with Miles sitting on a stool; a trio of trumpet, trombone and flute behind him; and Gil directing in the center of the orchestra. Evans conducts with an almost ballet-like flow of motion. He uses both arms, and keeps the beat going like a firm Poseidon calming troublesome waves. Evans is extremely careful that all the dense textural details and markings for dynamics are performed precisely and are recorded so that all the interweaving parts emerge clearly.


"At one point later in the afternoon, Evans cut off one take and said into the microphone, 'Are you getting a blending of the three flutes? I only hear one flute out here.' A&R man Teo Macero assured him that all three were distinctly audible in the control room. Gil went into the booth, heard for himself, and was satisfied.


"Miles came in for a sip of vodka. 'I can't eat. That's what's wrong with me.' After the vodka, he chuckled as he went out, saying, 'Me and Buddy Bolden.' (The reference was to the first 'name' trumpeter, a New Orleans barber with a reputation for high and hard living).


"By four, the shape of the piece was becoming established. The characteristic, fiercely mournful Spanish melody was a strong one. Evans' sketch for Miles looked complex, but Miles seemed to have no difficulty improvising around it. The orchestra's function, as in other Evans' scores, was to provide partly a support for and partly a commentary on Davis' solo statements. The range of colors was extensive, and they changed often, sometimes subtly dissolving into slightly different shades and at other times breaking sharply from ominous cool to brighter blends. By means of more complete instrumentation and varied voicings, Evans gets an unusually full-bodied orchestral sound for jazz from the deep bottoms of the tuba and French horns to high register woodwinds and brass. 'These look like flute parts we're playing,' lead trumpeter Ernie Royal said during one break, shaking his head in respect and exasperation.


"The rhythms were complex and several of the musicians found it hard to keep their time straight. Gil stopped one take as the rhythms became tangled. 'The tempo is going to go,' he waved his arm in an arc, first to the left and then to the right, 'this way and that way. Just keep your own time and let the rhythm go.' He again made a slow, even wave to further illustrate his point.


"As more and more takes, most of them fragmentary, were tried, Miles' confidence in his own role grew markedly. He had already demonstrated in his Flamenco Sketches (Kind of Blue, CL 1355/CS 8163) and Blues for Pablo with Gil Evans (Miles Ahead, CL 1041) a basic affinity with the Spanish musical temperament and sinuous rhythms. He played as if all by himself, his tone becoming burningly dark in the somber passages and then cutting through with sharper loneliness as the music grew more animated.


"In the control room, the visiting Hall Overton, a classical composer who has also been involved in jazz as a pianist and arranger, said, 'This is the toughest notation I've ever seen in a jazz arrangement. It could have been written more easily for the players and the result would have been the same, but Gil has to have it exactly the way it happens in the piece. Another thing that makes it so tough is that he's using so many different levels. Like the little trio part at the beginning that has to be balanced with Miles on his microphone. Then the three players go back to their places and that makes for another balance problem. And that's just the beginning. Fortunately, these guys are among the best readers in town. Two of those horn players, Jim Buffington and John Barrows, were in New Jersey last night playing a Beethoven sextet for string quartet and two horns.'


“'This,' said trombonist Frank Rehak between taking pictures of Miles and Gil during the playback. 'is a tough one. To count at all, you have to count four on every beat.'


"For the rest of the afternoon, the takes continued to improve. On one, Miles began to play in the lower register with deep feeling and a fuller tone than is usual in his work. 'Beautiful,' Macero said. 'The writing there is almost Gregorian,' he turned to Overton. 'It's all diatonic.’


"Gil and Miles came in to listen to a playback. 'I love that chord,' said Miles. 'and the end of that section with the flutes way up there. That's all 1 could hear last night in my sleep. Hey,' he turned to Macero, 'don't forget take three. That was a good one.'


"Teo asked Evans if the tympani came in too softly. 'I wanted it to be just a whisper,' said Evans, 'a little cushion of air, something to keep the thing floating. I think it's all right. The tuba is too loud though.’


'''You know,' Miles returned to the conversation, ‘the melody is so strong there's nothing you have to do with it. If you tried to play bebop on it, you'd wind up being a hip cornball. The thing I have to do now is make things connect, make them mean something in what I play around it.'


"In the control room, Evans was listening to the last playback. 'Damn! Miles can play beautifully down low.' In the studio, the musicians were packing up. It was a few minutes before six. 'This,’ said Gil, back in the control room, 'is where the heroine is crying for the dead bull tighter.'


'''Really?' said a visitor.


'''No,' Gil smiled. 'it's an old Spanish vamp.' "'That melody,' Miles was still marveling at the piece, 'is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.’


"'Yes,’ said Gil, 'it's distilled melody. If you lay it on too hard, you don't have it.'


"'It should take two, maybe three more sessions to finish the album,’ Teo was speculating.


"'When Gil and I start on an album,’ Miles was relaxing, 'we don't know how it's going to wind up. It just goes on out there. Gil,’ he turned to Evans, 'our next record date will be silence.'


'''You,’ said Gil, 'and your big ideas.'''


Gil Evans has been an autodidact throughout his career. Almost entirely self-taught, he does not limit himself to what the books say can or cannot be done. "I have always," says Gil, "learned through practical work. I didn't learn any theory except through the practical use of it.' For this assignment, he, characteristically, went to the library. He read several volumes on Spanish - particularly flamenco - music and on the life of the Spanish gypsy. He also borrowed a number of recordings, including Alan Lomax's field work for the Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music series and for other labels.


Among the music he and Miles listened to in preparation for the album was Manuel de Falla's 1915 ballet score, EI Amor Brujo. From it, Gil and Miles chose Will 0' The Wisp.  Gil's unusual feel for orchestral colors is evident immediately. Miles plunges in with the orchestra commenting. Note again how, as in Concierto, Miles has managed to combine his customary jazz timbre and beat with what Jelly Roll Morton once called "the Spanish tinge" - except that Miles has much more than a tinge of the Spanish musical ethos in his work here.

The Pan Piper is a folk melody Gil heard on an ethnic recording. It's a morning song and is probably sung in festival time as well as in ordinary diurnal circumstances. On the recording, the melody was played on the penny whistle by the local pig castrator who was whistling up business. Listen to the Joseph's coat of colors behind Miles. As Max Harrison wrote in Jazz Monthly: "One might have thought that comparatively few instrumental combinations remained to be 'discovered,' but Evans seems able to hit on endless mixtures of sound that are not only new to jazz writing but to all orchestral music. Indeed, while the listener may at first be preoccupied by orchestral virtuosity and harmonic individuality, it is the imaginative freshness that suffuses almost literally every detail of the orchestral fabric that implements so powerfully the beauty and originality of the whole." Or, as Miles puts it, "He made that orchestra sound like one big guitar."


The saete, in flamencan music, is "the arrow of song." One of the oldest religious types of music in Andalusia, it is usually sung without accompaniment during the Holy Week religious procession in Seville. It tells of the Passion of Christ and is usually addressed to the image of the crucified Christ that is carried in the march or to the Virgin Mary. As described by Gilbert Chase, "The singer, usually a woman, stands on a balcony overlooking the procession, grasping the iron railing firmly in both hands (the grip tightens as the emotion grows). The procession stops so that the image which is being addressed remains stationary while the saeta is being sung. A fanfare of trumpets gives the signal for the procession, to move on."


Gil has re-created the street procession, and Miles has the role of the woman aiming the "arrow of song." His performance here captures the essence of the saeta - "the heart pierced by grief." It is a measure of Miles' stature as a musician and a human being that he can so absorb the language of another culture that he can express through it a universal emotion with an authenticity that is neither strained nor condescending. How many other American musicians - jazz or non-jazz-could come close to what Miles has achieved in this one track? "It was hard," says Miles, "to get the musicians to realize that they didn't have to play perfect. It was the feeling that counted."


A basic form of flamenco is the solea, an Andalusian version of soledad ("loneliness"). "Generally," writes Chase, "it is a song of longing or lament, like the Afro-American blues." Many other forms of flamenco have stemmed from the solea, but this is one of the roots of the genre. I chose this rhythm," explains Gil, "because it kind of (swung) and it was so conducive to development." Miles again performs with a depth of emotion and strength of rhythm that represent a compelling blend of the "deep song" of flamenco and the cry of the blues.


There is a line from the Spanish writer, Ferran, that characterizes both the music on this record and the unsparing voice of Miles Davis:


"Alas for me! The more I seek my solitude, the less of it I find. Whenever I look for it, my shadow looks with me."




The Jazz Review


Liner notes taken from the original analog release.

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